American Expat Living in Taiwan - Interview with Christian

Published: 18 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Taiwan
Christian is a Texan living abroad in Taipei, Taiwan. She teaches ESL English and good writing skills to students looking to go abroad. She has based her life around traveling and finding new cultures because she can't seem to sit still for long and has an even harder time saying 'No' to things (except tuk tuk drivers in Thailand). She blames her Libra nature for making her easily obsessive over random musing, such as graphic design, tea tasting, and scarves. Currently, she’s in an ‘It’s Complicated’ relationship with writing, her site Backpacks & Blackboards being her soul mate. Her greatest passion, and reason for travel, relates to the concepts of sustainable human development. Through her writing, photography, and daily interactions, Christian hopes to make others aware of global issues and inspire even the smallest actions. Christian's expat blog is called Backpacks & Blackboards (see listing here)

Candied Strawberries in Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
Candied Strawberries in Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan

Here's the interview with Christian...


Where are you originally from?
This is always a tough question. Originally I am from Texas. I was born in the Dallas area, moved to Florida for a stint, then moved back to the Dallas area up until the 7th grade. After that, I moved to El Paso and now return there on trips home to visit my family. I went to university in San Antonio, Texas. So, I guess it would be safe to say that I am originally from Texas, y'all.

In which country and city are you living now?
I currently live abroad in the heart of Taipei, Taiwan.

How long have you lived in Taiwan and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been living in Taipei for over a year now and plan to stay for another year or two more. Taiwan is a real gem, combining the best of Asia and the developed world.

Lover's Bridge, Danshui, Taiwan
Lover's Bridge, Danshui, Taiwan
Why did you move to Taiwan and what do you do?
I moved to Taiwan slightly on a whim. I had just graduated with my MA and was accepted into a PhD program. However, I wanted to accept a new challenge with the added bonus of being international. I had a good friend in Taiwan who also teaches ESL English. So I took a chance by buying a one-way ticket at 4 in the morning, kissed my mom goodbye a month later, and moved to Taipei to teach ESL English and writing.

Did you bring family with you?
Unfortunately, I did not bring family with me but I have forced them to come visit since moving. It would be my hope that one day my mom will join me in an overseas city somewhere in Europe.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition to living in a foreign country is never a joy ride. Culture shock will eventually find you. Luckily for me, I had studied abroad before which gave me a good foundation for living abroad later. Also, I have always been an extremely adaptable person. It sometimes shocks people when they don't get the large reaction they were expecting from me. However, even I couldn't escape some rough patches. It hit me around the third month of my transition. Nothing a good cup of tea, a plate of pad thai, and some Law & Order re-runs couldn't fix.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Taiwan has a large, interconnected international community. There are several groups on Facebook that connect expats, locals, and students in a variety of ways. I mainly socialize with other expats, but have found a solid group of locals in my teaching circle that have made my time here memorable and welcoming.

Temple in Vientiane, Laos
Temple in Vientiane, Laos
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Taiwan may be a small island, but there is so much to do! There really is something for everyone. I would recommend checking out the nature trails around the island or taking a gondola ride up to Maokong to partake in a tea ceremony with tea grown right there on the side of the mountain. Obviously, I would also recommend going on a food adventure. No diets here! In Taipei, you can find a restaurant for each of the Asian regions, hitting Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, various areas of China, Japan, and India in a single weekend!

What do you enjoy most about living in Taiwan?
I love the endless mini adventures to be found in Taiwan. Whether I want art, nature, cafes, or dancing, Taiwan offers it all. The city has also made it easy and cheap to get around as well as find information for visitors. It doesn't take long before a visitor can relax with a bubble milk tea while strolling around Taipei like a local.

How does the cost of living in Taiwan compare to home?
The cost is much more affordable. However, I also make less than I would at home. There's this assumption that teaching in Asia is a quick way to make money and pay off loans or travel constantly. I work part-time and manage to meet my financial expenses with a little to enjoy. In all honesty, I work more than my paid hours because I have to devote so much time to preparing for classes. Also, errands such as grocery shopping take longer since I have to use public transportation. Overall though, I am having a much easier time than my peers back at home attempting to find jobs and pay rents.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Taiwan?
Being away from family and familiar comforts is definitely a negative. Some days, the burden of being abroad really hits you. Asia is very different than the rest of the world. This can be a wonderful thing, but it provides little comfort on the tough days. My biggest complaint to my family is that I can never find the right personal care products that I want. Thus, I have to beg them to mail me certain shampoos, medicines, or makeup.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Taiwan, what would it be?
Move to Taiwan with a goal and an intended period of stay. If you find that you love it enough, you can always re-write your original plan. However, too many young adults move to Taiwan thinking that teaching will make them lots of money and allow them to be fancy jet-setters. In reality, they end up getting stuck in Taiwan teaching, with no possibility of moving since they cannot afford the moving expenses. Be smart, have a plan, and figure out how to balance work, play, and saving for the future.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The language barrier is the hardest aspect. But I pride myself in my new talent in charades, drawing, and dance interpretation!

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I do not see myself returning home anytime soon. I would like to make a shift to Eastern Europe next. However if I did return home, I believe I would need trays worth of Mexican food to cope with the change. Did I mention that I am half Hispanic and seriously have bean and cheese withdrawals in Taipei?

Exploring San Antonio, Texas for the last time before moving abroad
Exploring San Antonio, Texas for the last time before moving abroad
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Find a spot to claim as your own in your new city. Parks, cafes, and museums make good starters. Music and your spot can help provide clarity on rocky days.
  2. Find the best time for restaurant deals, such as lunch menus. Then eat as much as you can out. If you ever move, you will miss the food the most! So go on, splurge a bit.
  3. If you are very outgoing, use some of this time in a new place to explore the realm of an introvert. Set aside time where you can hide away or be alone. If you an introvert, push yourself to have moments of an extrovert, such as striking up a conversation with stranger.
  4. Always carry hand sanitizer and pepto tablets with you at all times. Being sick with no one to take care of you is awful. You don't want to be throwing yourself lonely pity parties when ill.
  5. Really cut out unnecessary expenses but don't be afraid to treat yourself to small moments of luxury. These little splurges will keep you going, but all the other cuts to your expenses will help you save for the more memorable ones.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
The art of the travel essay has gotten lost with the rise of the internet. Backpacks & Blackboards is focused on bring back the travel essay, emerging the reader into the cultures and dynamics of a destination. As I am living in Taiwan currently, this is my biggest focus on the site. I hope that it will also become a platform for the concept of sustainable human development, enriching the reader's own knowledge on global issues and ways that they impact our every day life. While the site is still new, it is my goal to bring a little bit of everything together to capture the fancy of each type of reader.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I am always eager to connect with other expats, visitors, or just general observers. I can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or email. The best way though is to contact me through my site Backpacks & Blackboards, http://backpacksandblackboards.com

About the author

Expat Blog ListingChristian is an American expat living in Taiwan. Blog description: Backpacks & Blackboards is for those seeking travel writing & photography; needing inspiration; & finding a place for sustainable human development in our travels (by Christian Ekleberry)
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